Having said all the negative things about physics teachers-to-be, let me immediately express my profound admiration of and reverence to a very few exceptions. I bow in deep respect and humility to teachers like Paul Lockhart, who selflessly abandoned a university academic position to teach mathematics in St. Ann’s School in Brooklyn, NY, and whose book is a great documentary of how a teacher’s motivation and knowledge can spark creative genius in students, and how million-dollar grants to cognitive “scientists” – who have illegally crossed the borders of some US mathematics and physics departments – have been wasted only to effectually kill the interest of high school students in mathematics.
So, these honorable exceptions aside, can a biology teacher, whose only background in physics is a single course at sub-high school level, teach NGSS’s big bang theory, stellar nuclear fusion, or even simple electric and magnetic fields and potentials and Kepler’s laws of planetary motion? Can (s)he even pass the physics part of the 8th grade TIMSS? Can any of the physics teachers, including those with a BS in physics education – but excluding the very few exceptions whose physics knowledge is at the level of Paul Lockhart’s mathematical knowledge – pass a TIMSS Advanced physics test?
While its topics are impressive – as were those of Project 2061 and the other projects that came before it – NGSS are just a Maltobian solution of changing the color of the panels of the ball without addressing the incompetency of the players of the physics education game … the physics teachers!
Is there any solution to the American math/science conundrum? The incompetency of the majority of high school physics teachers, plus the concomitant epidemic of grade inflation, has rendered almost all teacher preparation programs at the baccalaureate level useless. Until the American high school and undergraduate levels reach those of other countries like South Korea, China, India, and Japan,1 the only solution is what happened in medicine. When scientific medicine was recognized as the only choice for the physical well-being of the US population, the snake oil venders were outlawed and only the brightest students were picked to go through a rigorous training to become the providers of the physical health of the nation. This brought about a prestige to the profession and a respect for physicians that encouraged the talented students to aspire to be doctors.
Teachers, especially physics and mathematics teachers, are the providers of the mental health of the future citizens of the nation. Let’s raise the bar of the teacher preparation programs at universities. Let’s require very high scores on SAT or ACT of the applicants and admit only the top few percent of students to these programs. Over time, teaching will become a respectful profession, teachers will be looked up to, students will admire their teachers, teachers’ salaries will increase, and bright students will naturally be attracted to the profession. Impossible? Look at what happened in Finland, which until 1968 was very much like America!